Voice problems usually
include pain or discomfort when you speak or difficulty controlling the pitch,
loudness, or quality of your voice.
As you exhale, air gently
passes through your throat, across your open vocal cords, and out your mouth
and nose. When you speak, your vocal cords close partially as air travels
through them, causing vibrations and the unique sound of your voice. Your voice
is the result of remarkable and complex interactions involving several body
parts—especially the lungs, voice box (larynx), and mouth. Damage to any of
these body parts can lead to a voice problem.
What causes voice problems?
Anyone can develop a
voice problem, but your risk is greatest if your job puts a high demand on your
vocal cords. For example, singers, preachers, and teachers have high-risk jobs.
Aging also strains the vocal cords. If you scream or talk loudly, you increase
your risk for voice problems. If you have ever had surgery on or near your
vocal cords, are a smoker, or have had throat cancer, your risk for developing
scar tissue and future voice problems increases as well.
What are the symptoms?
Typically, symptoms that
mean you may have a voice problem include:
A low, raspy, or rough
Hoarseness that continues for more than 2 or 3
Trouble swallowing or breathing, especially if you also have
Coughing or choking when you
Frequent throat clearing or the sensation that you have a
lump in your throat.
How are voice problems diagnosed?
Your doctor can
usually diagnose a voice problem using information from a medical history and
by doing a physical exam. Other tests may be done to evaluate vocal cord
vibration or to detect suspicious areas in your throat. Additional testing
doesn't necessarily mean you have a serious voice problem—it just helps your
doctor pinpoint the cause of your voice problem.
How are they treated?
For many voice problems,
resting your vocal cords is all that is needed, although this can be difficult
for some people. If you have a more serious or chronic voice problem, you may
need medicines, surgery, voice therapy, or a combination of these. Treatment
frequently succeeds in restoring the voice to normal. But it may take some time
for your voice to return to normal, depending on the severity and cause of your
Is your voice change serious?
You might be one of
those people who gets
laryngitis every time you get the common cold. This is
temporary and usually not serious. If your voice problem is accompanied by a
cold and goes away within 2 to 3 weeks after your cold or flu is gone, it's
probably nothing serious. If you feel concerned, you may want to see your
doctor just to make sure.
But when unexplained changes in your
voice continue for more than 2 or 3 weeks or interfere with your ability to
communicate, you may have a more serious problem. For some people, the changes
might get better but then reappear.
If you notice a change in your voice or if your voice problems get better but then come back, it's
worth making an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation.
Other Places To Get Help
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
1650 Diagonal Road
Alexandria, VA 22314-2857
The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck
Surgery (AAO-HNS) is the world's largest organization of physicians dedicated
to the care of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders. Its Web site includes
information for the general public on ENT disorders.
2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850-3289
1-800-638-8255 (301) 296-5700
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
promotes the interests of and provides services for professionals in audiology,
speech-language pathology, and speech and hearing science. ASHA also advocates
for people with communication disabilities. The Web site has information on
related health topics, self-help groups, and finding a professional in your
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication
DisordersNational Institutes of Health
31 Center Drive, MSC 2320
Bethesda, MD 20892-2320
The National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health,
advances research in all aspects of human communication and helps people who
have communication disorders. The website has information about hearing,
balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language.
Akst L (2011). Hoarseness and laryngitis. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2011, pp. 223–228. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Lustig LR, Schindler J (2010). Diseases of the larynx section of Ear, nose, and throat. In SJ McPhee et al., eds., 2010 Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 49th ed., pp. 207–211. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Swartz SR, et al. (2009). Clinical practice guideline: Hoarseness (dysphonia). Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 141(3, Suppl 2): S1–S31.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.